Hazel Markham, a child of Caribbean immigrants, became an accomplished musician who excelled in academia at a time when few women of color had the chance.
She defied modest beginnings to obtain multiple college degrees and pursue a career teaching and playing piano.
Markham, who with her husband raised children in Roosevelt, died in April of cardiopulmonary arrest. She was 95.
“She had this deep well of strength,” said daughter Patricia Woodside of Tampa, Florida.
Markham was born Hazel Waters in Harlem in 1921, Woodside said.
The second of three children, she was raised in a brownstone on West 139th Street by Herbert and Estelle Waters, a carpenter and a homemaker, respectively, who had immigrated to the United States from the island of Virgin Gorda in the 1910s.
Markham’s parents nurtured her interests in music and learning early, said daughter Maria Thompson, who remembered the piano and overflowing bookshelves in her grandparents’ home.
By the time she was a teenager, Markham was playing piano in a local classical orchestra, Thompson said.
“She just had a gift,” said cousin Edna Marungo of Queens.
Markham received a bachelor’s degree in music from Hunter College in 1942, said Thompson of Baltimore, Maryland. By 1950, she had obtained a master’s degree in music education from New York University, where she honed her skills reading and writing German, French and Latin, and produced a thesis on medieval German music.
“That was not a common thing for a black woman at that time,” Woodside said.
After graduating, Markham taught music at a junior high school in West Harlem, Woodside said, and continued to perform locally.
She married Martin Markham, a dental technician from Panama who had served in the Navy and the Merchant Marine, in 1952, Woodside said.
The couple built a home in 1956 in Roosevelt, where they raised their two daughters and son Daniel Markham — who died in 2011 at age 49 — as well as Ruth Markham Barton, her husband’s daughter from his first marriage. Martin Markham died in 1986.
Hazel Markham was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1967, Thompson said. The disease and her declining eyesight threatened Markham’s ability to read and play music — her lifelong passions.
But Markham persevered, substituting audiobooks for print versions, and continuing to play piano at local churches and community events.
“It wasn’t something that held her back,” Woodside said. “There was no ‘woe is me.’ ”
Markham moved into a nursing home in Hempstead in 2002, Woodside said, where she died April 4. A wake and funeral service were held April 22, and she was buried that day at Pinelawn Memorial Park in East Farmingdale.
In addition to her daughters, survivors include five grandchildren and four generations of children from her late husband’s previous marriage.